I’ve been resolving to write more frequently, and meaningfully, for a year, and a fat lot of good that’s done me. I’ve always been good at attributing blame for my inaction, and 2017 gave me plenty raw material: a national predicament with distraction as its personality, multiple part-time jobs that were “interfering with my creative continuity,” my 55th year of life–which, for me, somehow symbolized the absurdity that I would have anything meaningful to say about music–and my lifetime bibliomania (“Why write when I can read?”). You name it, I have had it handy: enough excuses not to write as there are cards in a deck.
Well, no more!
Nudged by a fellow music fanatic’s comment on a question I stole from Rough Trade Records’ Twitter feed and posted on a music forum, I’m attempting to make journaling about my listening a daily habit (along with, let’s see, meditation, exercise, reading 80-100 pages a day, I’m sure there’s more–I am a habitual man). Perhaps I’ll have something stimulating to say, but, at the very least, when someone asks me what I’ve been listening to today, or lately, I’ll be less likely to reply as I have been lately: “Ummmm…let’s see…uh…dammit…I can’t remember!” That, after, usually, a day when I’ve listened to several hours‘ worth of music. All of the technology in my life is reducing my need for memory, and that scares the living fuck out of me. Fear: the great motivator.
I shall now sally forth. I doubt every entry will be this detailed when I’m back to work, but I will strive for it.
Last night, the final one of a truly terrifying year, found us holed up in this hotel, watching a decent movie (Ingrid Goes West), playing Phase 10, and, of course, listening to a tsunami of music, while a 40-degree drizzle reigned outside. Rather than just be scrolling through song choices every five minutes, I utilized some YouTube playlists I’d created. Since I, wisely or unwisely, subscribe to YouTube Red, we didn’t have to hear ads; this comes in handy in my pop music/freshman comp class at Stephens College, when I’m using them for instructional purposes.
One of these was a “life playlist” I’d created for a fellow instructor, Juan Diaz, when I was teaching high school at Hickman. He’d made the assignment for his pop culture class and I couldn’t help joining in. You’ll have to guess at what kind of life event each song represents. Or maybe you’d better not.
Another was a Top 20 mix that plucked a dandy song off each of my favorite records of 2017. I was a bit nervous about how some of the songs would land on Nicole’s ear, as she’s (mostly) a staunch American music classicist; in particular, she adores ’50s and ’60s electric Chicago blues and Dinah Washington. Fortunately, she didn’t seem to mind some of the stranger items on this playlist. Listening to the great young EDM artist JLin in the context of her fellow Top Tenners gave me even more confidence that I’d rightly placed her in their company.
We closed out the evening and the year with an in-progress companion I’m making for music scholar Rich Kienzle’s fascinating but prosaically titled out-of-print Great Guitarists, within the pages of which I’ve found many obscure classics, several included here:
Through the vodka-smudged chambers of my memory, I believe Elmore James’ exploding, abrading slide guitar was the last musical sound I heard in 2017.
This morning, after arising and pouring down some coffee, Nicole and I went up to the roof to see the early morning sun shining over The City That Care Forgot. The best view accessible to us, unfortunately, was in the stanky hotel fitness center, but the hotel employee in charge noticed us taking pictures and snuck us into the super-secret rooftop conference room, the view from which was stunning.
Blissed out by such views, we went down to the hotel restaurant to dine (in case you’re curious, I enjoyed–I mean enjoyed–chicken-fried green tomatoes, boudin blanc, and poached eggs–but no cocktail). Every time we’ve eaten at Criollo, the music has been fantastic; they lean heavily on ’50s Verve-label jazz, but it’s clearly curated, not just thrown together. While waiting for breakfast to arrive, we heard Ella Fitzgerald’s version of Rodgers and Hart’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” a song I knew best from Anita O’Day’s version, which I thought definitive. After all, who better than the headfirst-into-the-flames Miss O’Day to convey the exquisitely detailed and varied pain suggested by the lyrics?
I’m often wrong, and I was again. Ella’s often written of as projecting a girlishness, but her delivery almost sadistically twists ecstasy and injury in a manner only available to someone who’s been to the bottom of lust’s (and love’s) well. Here, try it yourself, and check Hart’s lyrics, which I assume from what I know of his sex life were written about a man:
Our meal closed out perfectly with one of Nicole’s all-time favorite songs, Dinah Washington’s classic “What A Diff’rence a Day Makes.”
And I hope it does. For at least 364 more.
I must away to attend to finishing Richard Lloyd Parry’s haunting account of the destruction of a school and most of its students and teachers, Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone. Cheerful stuff, but masterfully written.
Erik Reece’s Oxford American piece on Freakwater.
What we skipped, live in NOLA: a second line w/Hot 8, Slick Rick, Tank & the Bangas.
Gary Giddins’ Map to Post-War Jazz